“This is just like television, only you can see much further.”
— Jerzy Kosinski
— Being There
1. Chauncey Gardner in Drag and The Poltergeist.
There’s a moment in Spielberg’s Poltergeist where, well into the chaos, the suburban mom (JoBeth Williams) passes her abducted daughter’s bedroom. The door is closed. Beyond it lurks whatever evil has taken her little girl. She hesitates and then opens the door. Inside is a vortex of paraphernalia all possessed by the spirits. Toys fly around the room, and one, a small Hulk (sic!) on a horse, launches itself at her and she closes the door just in time.
The room is America having a nervous breakdown. There is one disease but many divergent symptoms. The disease is capitalism which by necessity must either collapse or become utterly, ruthlessly tyrannical. Capitalism requires, demands, a permanent underclass of wage slaves because it is a system based on exploitation. If, for example, everyone can afford a house than the (artificially) maintained prices of everything that goes into a house (construction, transportation, permits, inspections, plumbing, etc) would lose value. This is true for every aspect of the system from food to politics. Eventually the system collapses or in order to stave off collapse it enters into fascism in order to keep itself in power. And here we mean fascism in the sense of capitalism merging with the state in a ruthless violent tyranny versus fascism as an anti-capitalist tyranny of sham populism. Or, if you prefer, both because while Trump is a professional demagogue he remains an amateur fascist. His adherence to tyranny is not ideological so much as strictly psychological and while other notable thugs had either political genius and or political cunning, Trump is a disturbed mentally atrophied poster boy for the nearest psych ward. But one can not take solace in that. The assortment of fanatics and a-moral goons that surround him or aim to take advantage of his Ahab-esque obsessions are just as dangerous as any ideologically committed gangsters from the pages of history.
Regardless of which course it takes capitalism inevitably leads to its own demise. Eventually the accrual of power at the top becomes so unbalanced relative to the expansion of poverty below that there is either a rebellion from below or rebellion from above. Sometimes the two merge as the oligarchs and psychopaths find that it is better to rule in hell than serve in a republic.
Underneath this umbrella there are the symptoms. In fin de siècle America we have among many blisters, the Citizens United Decision which in the triumph of the surreal invented the corporation as a person and unleashed the power of brute cash into the political eco-system resulting in (exactly as predicted) the rise of unhinged oligarchs and other assorted psychopaths. But The Supreme Court’s decision was itself a result of the cynical and ideological, corrupt class warfare that had been waged for decades between the two atrophied and sclerotic main political parties.
This is both the neo-liberal democrats with their belief in the idea that capitalism could be made to work for everyone with a fresh coat of paint and some tweaks to the rules and the small tent republicans with their belief that The New Deal was either Bolshevism in everything but name or a precursor agent that when mixed with everything else would produce a social and economic nerve agent of such lethality that upon deployment would turn all of America into vegan Birkenstock wearing genderless serfs.
Scattered in-between these two psychopathologies one finds a handful of less lunatic views ranging from old fashioned liberalism to old fashioned conservatism. But as unrestrained capitalism continued to metastasize the old ways became extreme minority views and before long they found themselves being chased down the blind alleys of fate by the monster they had created. And make no mistake they both created it. The refusal of any but a handful of individuals to speak the truth led to the current three ring circus of chaos, tyranny, ineptitude, platitudes, shallowness, and unhinged neo-fascist demagogic incompetence.
And when we say truth we mean that at every turn when anyone pointed out that any one of the insane, immoral, illegal, unconstitutional, incompetent actions undertaken by the government was not only doomed to fail in the short term but doomed to cause harm in the long term, they were drowned out, ridiculed into silence, or set up by schemes that sent them off into the political wilderness.
Our politics is the business of gangsters and always has been but its become worse and is now a cross between a Roman Circus and a dystopian thunderdome with a side gig in steel cage death matches brought to you in surround sound.
Which brings us to the idea (we use the term loosely and provisionally) that Oprah, a first rate carnival barker of feel good capitalism with a dash of self-help guruism and the populism of the bourgeois aspirant is a serious pretender to the throne of Trump who is himself a second rate carnival barker of sadomasochistic capitalism with a dash of masturbatory look-out-for-number-one hucksterism and the populism of trailer park jealousy. For the Oprahites the dream is not just a benign all-powerful mother who leaves goodies under your seat – it’s certainly of that – but what’s under your seat is an ipad, a year’s supply of organic kale, and a deluxe spa treatment. And a car. And an America where everyone can be rich, and smug. It’s the status of having. It’s the status of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop mixed with a patina of liberal environmentally sound organic soy-based morality.
Add to this the rectionary guru-based neo-fascism in which all doubt is banished by adherence to “being in the moment; the now” and you have a pop-priestess selling an abstracted detached capitalism stripped of any questions about how the sausage gets made.There is something dangerously simplistic about her insistence that fear and doubt not only can be banished but should be banished from the individual’s sense of self. This is Brave New World or We. This is the cult of (seemingly) benign narcissism that strips the individual of righteous anger except when it suits the high priestess. Imagine Springsteen without anxiety. Imagine Tolstoy without a god to wrestle against. Imagine a world devoid of The Blues.
See her repeatedly talk to “experts” who insist that they are always in the now and thus have eliminated anxiety from their lives. Then contrast that with her Globe’s speech in which she declared a rhetorical war that either requires anger and action or has triumphed and then she declares an end to a need for anger and action because a “new day has dawned.” This is demagoguery 101. This is circ du soleil where the contortions are of the soul and the mind. This is a simplistic, yet slick Being There based on a hodgepodge of decontextualized aphorisms, half-baked bromides and shallow con-artist third-rate Jedi mind tricks.
For the Trumpists it’s cash and the knowledge that the all-father will look the other way while you do as you please and doing as you please ranges from nothing to pissing toxic sludge into the drinking water (and getting paid for it) to going to Vegas with your arsenal of automatics. All of which of course also includes dismantling The New Deal and returning the country to some sort of feudal pre-NAFTA hybrid of agrarian and coal-chewing fiefdoms, in which the Negroes and the Jews and the queers and the immigrants and the women all knew their place.
But between these two sets of delusions arguing over which end of the egg one should break first, there are the rest of the political smurfs.
Consider Obama who for reasons still unknown decided that ordering the murder of a US citizen based on what he claimed was secret evidence was not only legal but smart – as in: so what if there was a president after him who was insane. Besides as his utterly feckless Attorney General Eric Holder put it in Kafkaesque terms the sage of Prague would have found droll, “Due process does not necessarily mean evidence will be reviewed by judges.”
Or if you like consider the morally gelatinous Nancy Pelosi, who on being asked about a single payer national healthcare system said: “We’re capitalists. Get used to it.”
Not only were both morally tone deaf but, politically incompetent because they sacrificed the immediate short term sham victory for the long term health of the system and thus set the nation’s course towards being held hostage to fortune.
On the other side of the same coin you have Mitch McConnell in a fit of political gotterdammerung holding the constitution hostage by refusing to allow a vote on Merrick Garland so whichever pinhead republican got elected next they could get some anti-New Deal Zombie on the bench. Technically not against the rules but morally odious and politically toxic. Or, consider Ayn Rand fanboy Paul Ryan with his Lynchian devotion to the American arcadia of 1950s malt shops and homecoming rallies and a social free for all in which the Andy Hardy innate goodness of people will win through to victory. And if you die broke and alone on the streets well too fucking bad you should have rubbed some dirt in it and walked it off.
And of course you have the advent of the home computer and the hand-held computer both of which along with the internet have allowed for any number of goons otherwise confined to their basements or bowling alleys or corner stores, to emerge as lords of the flies and pretenders to the throne of Rohan while Sauron-Trump lays waste to everything else. The neoreactionaries of the world (the Peter Thiels and Curtis Yarvins with their Tourette’s syndrome writing style that dispenses with logic in favor of a glue sniffing rhetoric and name dropping – a touch of Ayn Rand, a dash of Hayek, a splash of Evola and some good old fashioned crypto-monarchist dueling scar fetishes disguised as manliness motivated by a not so secret febrile fear of women) have slithered out of their Silicon Valley roach motels to let loose their barbaric neo-fascist techo yawps. They have their counterparts on the turgid remains of the left where essentially the same rhetoric (replace Rand with Adorno and Evola with someone French) dressed up in the lead bricks of academic mumbo-jumbo amount to the same calls for dictatorship.
Add in the cult of business – which ranges from What America needs is a good 5 cent cigar and the business of America is business, to let the market decide – and the usual idiot savants of the religious echo chamber where were either a few seconds away from salvation or Armageddon or both and then add in the massive number of people who are so brain dead and or so disgusted with all of it that they can’t be bothered to vote or read or think and you have…well you have a train wreck. And a nervous breakdown.
Huzzah, yahtzee! It’s chaos leading to revolution from below or from above but either way the solution will be tyrannical.
And so into this mess of political sepsis, this episode of projectile vomiting, in a system that has spent decades denigrating slow deliberation, thoughtfulness and an appreciation of nuance, paradox and shades of grey, steps The Oprah.
That she is a creature of the system who spent time giving Harvey Weinstein kisses on the cheek, that she proclaims an adherence to the conservative ideology of pull yourself up by your bootstraps and no one is to blame for your misfortune except you, while quoting Dr. King or Ghandi, that she offers bribes in the manner of every other demagogue whose come before her, that she is a shallow pseudo-intellectual poser offering cheap bromides and platitudes with the philosophical depth of a fortune cookie, will be lost on everyone but a handful of people to whom no one will listen. Because she’s Chauncey Gardner in drag and unlike Chauncey, bent on control.
And because she is nicer than The Malignant Troll, she will be more popular.
2. The Indian Burial Ground.
Though it is worth noting, in the immediate aftermath of the Oprah-gasm that engulfed the bottomless pit of narcissism that is the caliphate of the entertainment kingdom, the dowager of the system, Nancy Pelosi said two things of importance. First, (displaying one of the essential qualities of the political whore – the ability to be right for the wrong reasons) that we are living through what it’s like to have an inexperienced person drive the ship and secondly, that The Oprah would be fine as guru-in-chief as long as she surrounded herself with experienced advisors.
That’s a nice way of saying I Nancy am in charge here and I’m the queen maker not you your majesty so put that under your chair!
Oprah, being a slightly less unstable narcissist than the Malignant Troll, and because she has a better sense of optics and a more refined aspirational palate, would no doubt indeed surround herself with a brain trust; a 21st century best and brightest, a who’s who of “experts” ranging from genuine traditional (i.e acceptable to both sides) experts in National Security (say Colin Powell and less acceptable…Hillary or Joe Biden with Kamala Harris as A.G., and Gayle as Chief of Staff) to sham experts like Dr. Phil. And make no mistake about that – an Oprah cabinet would be just like an episode of Oprah ranging from the genuine to the faux from the saccharine to the complex with all the speed of a whore turning tricks in the back of her pimp’s car. After all, because Bill Clinton recommended it to her, she chose Faulkner for her book club but of course she’s still Oprah and it’s not like she actually expects anyone to wade through Absalom, Absalom! She can have Cormac McCarthy on as a guest but she’s still the one who egged on the utterly gullible Tom Cruise to dance monkey dance, while she sat there with a bemused look on her face and his reputation became chum. This is Oprah the opportunist, the ride two horses with one ass, the “liberal” (self-made) billionaire who understands the little people but is pro money, populist but elitist. A floor wax, and a dessert topping.
Consider her royal consort, Steadman, when asked if she would run said: “It’s up to the people. She would definitely do it.” The classic con of the populist elitist. She is dependent on the will of the people except the people are dependent on her and she is dependent on the party machine. So either Steadman and by extension, Oprah, are disingenuous and know it’s a typical populist con, or they are fools who don’t know any better. As the professional cynics like to say when being dismissive of leftists: (Oprah) must run after the crowd so she can find out what they want, and lead them.
One need only imagine the scene when she says in her own version of Eisenhower’s I will go to Korea: I will go to Iran! Where she will wear a hijab because, she will say, she wants to feel what it’s like to be a woman in Iran. The right will scream treason and organic soy milk left fascism and the liberals will say things like only Oprah could do it!
Of course when she has to actually disclose where she’s invested her money over the years things could get dicey. When she has to compromise on healthcare in order to get her pick on the court (or the other way around) and when she has to actually order the military to send people to die, things will be far more complex than giving everyone a car.
But she’ll say nice things and tell nice stories and talk about good capitalism and how everyone can be like her. Which is exactly what The Malignant Troll does except with more foaming at the mouth, and a symbiosis between aspiration and contempt.
In Oprah the contempt is elided and replaced with self-loathing which in turn is turned on its head and the adherents of the cult are told they have to be positive and work harder, and sure you can have a union but if you would just do as Oprah says you won’t need a union because she’ll fix everything for everyone. In other words to be like Oprah, to aspire, to succeed, you must jettison the complexity of anxiety and angst and existential torment (so much for Faulkner and Cormac Mccarthy) and replace it with the power of positive thinking, and that in turn must be replaced with an adherence to the idea that capitalism is good and good for you too! It is the stuff of cults. It is the banal boilerplate of the demagogue and the All-American huckster.
Think about the end of her speech at the Globes. A new day is coming she said and we’re heading towards the Promised Land where class warfare and exploitation and the human ugliness that fuels those things and from which great art emerges, will vanish because…Saint Oprah is here to slay the dragon of the human animal in the form of the Malignant Troll.
Is she nicer than he is? Sure. Is she more thoughtful? Sure. Is she more likely to avoid a war and more likely to keep a lid on the steaming shit pile of fascism? Yes. (maybe).
But, so is a piece of lawn furniture.
The bar having been drilled into the ground is now set so low that an ant could pass under it and emerge as a beauty queen who is also a race car driver, brain surgeon, navy seal and an abstract painter and a devotional poet. She can quote Maya Angelou and she’ll find Macron and Mrs. Macron absolutely charming. She’ll be great friends with Wills and Kate and Harry and his new wife. She’ll throw out the first pitch at a Yankees’ game and invite Colin Kaepernick to the White House (and hold a listening session on race). She’ll trade jokes with Colbert, heal the lame and talk wonk with Jake Tapper. She’ll talk tough to Putin and bring him a nice gift basket with copies of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and a dvd of what the NSA heard him say while on the throne.
In fact, this brings us to Oprah’s true secret identity. She is…the most interesting man in the world! Except, she’s (almost) real or less disingenuous and yet, she is still a tabula rasa onto which the nation will project everything. She is Paul Simon’s Joe DiMaggio and the gunslinger and the triumphant minority who is scary to the establishment but is also the establishment, and she is the poltergeist room of the nation. She’s Chauncey Gardner in drag.
Spielberg opens Kool Aid stand for The Oprah.
The Fever rises. Steven Spielberg has announced he supports The Oprah for president because she’s empathetic. Worse still, when asked if she has the experience needed he responded by saying that Trump has no experience which is nothing more or less than saying that since any fool can get the job it’s alright to hire another better sounding inexperienced fool selling a third rate con to chumps.
Spielberg then mentioned Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and how they both “learned on the job.”
Except of course Clinton had been attorney general, governor and was a Rhodes Scholar and Obama had been a senator even if only for the time it took to have a cup of coffee with Ted Kennedy.
What Spielberg conveniently leaves out is that both were lawyers and thus had at least a passing familiarity with how the system works. And both had spent (some) time watching how the sausage gets made. The Oprah of course would as we’ve mentioned surround herself with “experts”. What that means then is turning the Presidency into a ceremonial position with power that is used by consensus and the consensus is arrived at through the manipulations of the cult of personality that surrounds the figurehead.
This is the appeal of the bourgeoisie version of Trump – it is populist anti-establishment hucksterism wrapped in a Tiffany box. It celebrates her precisely because she has no experience and thus decries and demeans the idea that experience is a prerequisite. Decades of propaganda, and brainwashing from television, and the 24/7 iphone narcissism have triumphed. Spielberg is the herald of vox populi brought to you with the latest in CGI.
Consider that The Oprah has no experience with…diplomacy (and no, negotiating a subsidiary or licensing deal with a network is not the same thing as negotiating a trade deal with China or a cease fire in Lebanon if for no other reason, usually in the world of network television and cable, no one is planting improvised explosive devices or holding anyone hostage and threatening to cut their heads off.) with the EU, with the intercine tribal politics of post-industrial England as it races towards Brexit, no experience in dealing with warlords who possess vast nuclear arsenals and armies, no experience in dealing with the mandarins of the CIA, no experience in dealing with narco-terrorists, drug policy, the environment, immigration, the demented bordello of the House of Representatives or the decadent millionaire’s club of the Senate, and god help us all what the hell is she going to do about North Korea? (or for that matter GITMO or…make your own damn list).
This surely is the end phase of the great experiment. A triumph of the will as imagined by Disney and Pynchon with liner notes by Vonnegut or Burroughs.
Farce then tragedy then farce again.
Drink the kool aid here: